Ethics debate rolls out over tech aiding brain and body

A British ethics group has launched a debate on the ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies that tap into the brain and could bring super-human strength, highly enhanced concentration or thought-controlled weaponry.

With the prospect of future conflicts between armies controlling weapons with their minds, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics launched a consultation…to consider the risks of blurring the lines between humans and machines.

“Intervening in the brain has always raised both hopes and fears in equal measure. Hopes of curing terrible diseases, and fears about the consequences of trying to enhance human capability beyond what is normally possible,” said Thomas Baldwin, a professor of philosophy at Britain’s York University who is leading the study.

These challenge us to think carefully about fundamental questions to do with the brain: What makes us human? What makes us an individual? And how and why do we think and behave in the way we do?.”

The Council…wants to focus on three main areas of neurotechnologies that change the brain: brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), neurostimulation techniques such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and neural stem cell therapy.

These technologies are already at various stages of development for use in the treatment of medical conditions including Parkinson’s disease, depression and stroke, and experts think they could bring significant benefits, especially for patients with severe brain disease or damage.

But they also have huge potential outside the health context. In military applications, BCIs are being used to develop weapons or vehicles controlled remotely by brain signals, and there is big commercial scope in the gaming industry with the development of computer games controlled by people’s thoughts…

The ethics council’s consultation is at www.nuffieldbioethics.org/neurotechnology. The deadline for responses is April 23 and it expects to publish a report with recommendations in 2013.

Borg rules. Resistance is futile.

Winner — International Garden Photographer of the Year


Click photo to enlarge

Magdalena Wasiczek has won the International Garden Photographer of the Year 2012 competition with her image called Upside Down.

Andrew Lawson, one of the judges, said: “I love the subtlety and balletic simplicity of this picture. The brimstone alighting on a sweet pea is a fortuitous event, brilliantly seen. The butterfly and the flower are the the perfect complement to each other. The outlines of the insect’s wings are continuous with the lines of the flowers; and the patterning on its wings picks up an echo of the pink colour of the flowers.”

Magdalena also won first place in The Beauty of Plants category as well as other Finalist and Highly Commended awards.

Bravo!

Peeing in his yard — Frenchman sues Google street view for their camera peering over his gate

A Frenchman took Google to court on Thursday over a photo published online by its Street View application showing him urinating in his front yard which he believes has made him the laughing stock of his village in rural northwest France.

The man, who is aged around 50 and lives in a village of some 3,000 people in the Maine-et-Loire region, is demanding the removal of the photo, in which locals have recognised him despite his face being blurred out.

He also wants 10,000 euros in damages.

“Everyone has the right to a degree of secrecy,” his lawyer, Jean-Noel Bouillard, told Reuters. “In this particular case, it’s more amusing than serious. But if he’d been caught kissing a woman other than his wife, he would have had the same issue.”

The man thought he was hidden from view by his closed gate as he relieved himself in November 2010. But Google’s lens caught him from above his gate as it passed by. Bouillard did not explain why the man chose to urinate outside.

What’s wrong with peeing outdoors. I wouldn’t want anyone watching me either, though.

Google’s lawyer in the case, named by local daily Ouest France as Christophe Bigot, was not immediately reachable, but the newspaper said he was pleading that the case should be declared null and void.

The court will get to decide if [and how much] a penalty should be exacted in addition to removal of the image – and I imagine they’ll certainly decide for the latter. Blurring a face doesn’t mean much when the context and remaining details of a photo make it clear to a community who is in the photo.

The acidic shift in Earth’s oceans may be fastest in 300 million years

The world’s oceans are turning acidic at what could be the fastest pace of any time in the past 300 million years, even more rapidly than during a monster emission of planet-warming carbon 56 million years ago, scientists said on Thursday.

Looking back at that bygone warm period in Earth’s history could offer help in forecasting the impact of human-spurred climate change, researchers said of a review of hundreds of studies of ancient climate records published in the journal Science.

Quickly acidifying seawater eats away at coral reefs, which provide habitat for other animals and plants, and makes it harder for mussels and oysters to form protective shells. It can also interfere with small organisms that feed commercial fish like salmon…

Oceans get more acidic when more carbon gets into the atmosphere. In pre-industrial times, that occurred periodically in natural pulses of carbon that also pushed up global temperatures, the scientists wrote.

Human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, have increased the level of atmospheric carbon to 392 parts per million from about 280 parts per million at the start of the industrial revolution. Carbon dioxide is one of several heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming.

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Pic of the Day


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Picture: ANTERO TOPP/CATERS NEWS

A jumbo-sized cloud of tiny birds called red-billed queleas surrounds an elephant at the Satao Camp water hole in East Tsavo, Kenya. Photographer Antero Topp said: “There are big trees close to waterhole where the birds landed and at that time we suddenly heard a strong crack. A huge branch had been broken by the weight of these tiny birds despite them only weighing about 10 grams each. All the birds took off and you could hear an unbelievable whoosh…

Amazing photo, stunning.